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Unless you live on an Amish farm, then you probably know that music games are all the rage these days. Every games developer and his dog is trying to cash in on the Guitar Hero rhythm-game formula and ride its coat tails all the way to the bank. Rockstar's Beaterator is not one of these games, in fact, we really shouldn't call Beaterator a game at all.
This is not a game
Instead, Beaterator is the handheld equivalent of Garage Band on a Mac, or Fruity Loops on a PC. It's a music sequencer on PlayStation Portable offering music lovers the chance to mix their favourite loops from the thousands of pre-made music samples on offer. If you don't find the sound you're after in the library, then you also have the chance to create your own using some extremely in-depth tools.
To build the immense library of audio, Rockstar Games has collaborated with DJ Timbaland, and it's Timbaland who acts as your tour guide through Beaterator's levels of increasingly complex creation modes via some very handy video tutorials. The top level is Live Play, a user-friendly introduction to music making where you select loops on eight available channels while an animated Timbaland gets down to the beats you make. Navigating this mode is simple, using the direction pad to move between the tracks, and the PlayStation control buttons to turn samples on and off. If you don't like the pre-selected sounds you can mix them up, replacing the samples assigned to a designated control key by choosing a new loop from the vast collection.
Live Play is the most accessible art of Beaterator
(Credit: Rockstar Games)
This is the first test of patience, and the hurdle most likely to throw off casual gamers and Guitar Hero fanatics deluded into thinking they are actually musicians. Changing a loop is a daunting task, with the multitudes of options at your disposal. Do you want House Drums 09 or Urban Kicks 03? Maybe T Bass Atmospheric 05? You can preview each loop in the selection window while your track keeps playing in the background to give you a sense of how it will play with the rest of your composition, but this doesn't help it be any less of a painstaking process.
Stu- Stu- Studio
If, on the other hand, sifting through the hours of loops sounds like nirvana to you, then you'll be eager to push on into the bowels of Beaterator, below the colourful animations and to the boiler room of music making — the Studio. Studio Session gives players similar controls to Live Play, but with added loop tags so you can see what you're working with. Once you're familiar with the loops you're using it's time to move on further still.
Beyond this is Song Crafter, the place where those who want ultimate control over their beats need to take their latest tracks. The interface is similar to what you might expect from a PC-based loops editor, with the tracks of loops laid out like an Excel spreadsheet. Here you can change the duration of a sample, adjust its timing in the loop, and see your song represented visually. Again, there are eight tracks to work with, though you aren't limited to one sample per track, you can mix and match samples as you see fit.
From the Song Crafter you can get right down to the software's finest audio controls. Below the loops layout are knobs to tweak the audio quality of the loops, from the volume to the pan and swing. All of these controls can be adjusted on the fly, so you can ride the volume of a track, for example, while the composition plays until you have it exactly where you want it. If the drum loop you are using doesn't cut it you can edit it in Loop Edit, changing each individual sound element, each crack of the snare or thud of the kick drums. Again you have eight tracks to sample on, and again it is a painstaking process trying to find exactly the right sound for your loop, but those who persevere will be rewarded with the satisfaction of creating a unique sound.